Janet Buck: Three poems

The Spiral Staircase

I climb you stairs for no other reason
than concrete knowledge
that I cannot stand to fail.
Three avenues beseech my bones:
the stairs, the elevator cage,
and the immiscible chair.
I've stripped the latter's paint
even though I have not worn its presence,
as mud slides toward immobile go.
With swollen will and heaving lungs,
disapproval's beriberi scorching
the drapes of my limping ways
in a war known only to those
who have parted with legs.

A kamikaze pilot in a diving plane
that draws his strength from panic winds,
the mission of `try' is all I know.
Spiral stares, the other kind,
ones I turn my back to face,
are Texas twisters to my mind.
So let's pretend, for a sliver of time,
that I shall roll the egg of suffer
from the countertop and catch it smartly
in advance of the crash.

Indubitably, this wet denial is turpentine
that etherizes accidental falls.
My bones, like splattered pigeons' wings,
lie in seas of toppled stones --
sugar on a spoon
I must lick before it dries.
Determination's shiny Packard
on the showroom floor
of a swimming pool,
I work this anger out and float.

The Hospital Tray

The night before surgery
always has that sticky feel.
Where words seem like planted bombs
and everybody acts suspiciously happy.
Upside-down in the hybrid
shell of passing time,
I saw my flesh in mashed potato
blobs they called a boat.
Hoped on hope, the velocity
of velvet motion could be patched
but deep-down saw what lay ahead.
Rawhide sheets were already
slicing the flesh of my heel and
I knew this jump was another risk.
I stirred pebbled peas around the plate,
tried to smile through the ether of dread.
Courage seemed crucial
like the smell of gospel music
in a Southern town batted around
by discrimination's Klu Klux Klan.

Then suddenly, I departed from grace
and said to the surgeon
with blunt razor words:
`Do this one right!
I'm a bitch of a bowling ball
when the subject of a wheelchair
hits the floor and if you're in the way,
you'll probably be the pin.'
Of course, my father (who
always had polite down pat)
died when he heard these words
from 5' 2" eyes a blue
Emily Dickinson of the empty page.
Pain, however, does strange things
to politesse. On some level,
I'm sure he understood.
If he didn't, well, I'd stop using
his eyes as a bathroom scale.

Gravy Motion

Ain't nuthin' like walkin' on
the scarlet ooze of an amputation
to teach you things about treasure chests
of decent health that get ignored until
they fall like Steinways over the side
of a ship en route to another world.
A stump in the planter
of a plastic leg waters flowers
in ways we never wanted floods --
part of the great grand slam
of mortal usurping the air --
a busted tire at 65 --
an oar-less canoe buffed
by the salt of old, old age.
Pain and sweat are Siamese twins
and pity is a baby carriage
with wheels that we must turn away.

Bones that lisp fathom
boats of gravy motion,
swallow lumps, and
disregard consistency.
Jump-start will without a choice.
Suffer sadly sharpens things
like patience, and pencils,
and gratitude for the sun
even when its cheeks
are slapped by morning clouds.
It's the `must' approach of wrestling
tuna cans open without
the electric convenience of poise,
but when the lid does pop,
the boneless moment is solid gold
like rosaries splitting in the center
of `Amazing Grace' and hitting the floor
with a great, great noise.